Maple Ridge school district considers lower bus rates

May also allow courtesy riders to boost ridership.

School bus service in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows could return to last year’s rates, and the inclusion again of courtesy riders.

School District No. 42 trustees held a special meeting Thursday to consider those two key staff recommendations, along with other adjustments to the system, said trustee Susan Carr.

She did not offer details of where the funding would come for the revisions.

“We’ve got to make it happen. We don’t want the pilot to fail,” said Carr. “There is a feeling out there that we set it up to fail.”

The school board previously budgeted $650,000 for school bus service, but had eliminated that expenditure and all school bus service starting in September, as a budget cut.

With the education ministry announcing $630,000 in restored funding in early June, the board set up a new school bus pilot project with $260,000 in funding, and more than doubled the fees collected from parents.

Those advocating for restored service criticized the system as under-funded and set to fail.

A member of the group, Anita Brierly, released a chart this week comparing the bus system in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows to others in the province, and said it is the worst.

As proposed, the local pilot project would have had the highest school bus fees in B.C., and the highest walk limits.

As well, it would be the only district not allowing courtesy riders – students who live too close to qualify for bus service, but are willing to pay.

Brierly said all districts allow courtesy riders where they can fit them on to bus routes, because they add revenue and make the whole system more viable.

There are parents who asked for bus service, and they are willing to pay, but because they live within the walk limits, they have been refused.

Brierly said one boy, who has health considerations, would have to watch the bus drive right past him on his way to school.

Before any of Thursday’s proposed changes, the local district would have the highest cost fee for a single rider in B.C. at $416 per year, and the highest fees for multiple riders, because there are no breaks given for multiple riders from the same family.

There are families with four bus students who are expected to pay $1,664 for the service. The next highest such rate in B.C. is Central Okanagan, which has a family maximum of $900.

However, if the board restores the 2015-2016 fee schedule, parents would pay $215 per single rider, with the third and fourth child costing $100 each.

Only about 25 per cent of the boards in the province have bus fees.

The walk limits here are four kilometers for children in kindergarten to Grade 3, and 4.8 km for students in grades 4-12, but many districts have shortened their walk limits.

Brierly sent the information to all trustees and many school district officials on Monday evening, asking whether they had considered such facts before they approved their new bus system.

Her group has been lobbying MLAs Doug Bing and Marc Dalton for the province to intervene, with dedicated transportation funding.

Carr said registration for the bus pilot project was lower than expected, and problems are evident, so it was time for the board to reconsider the proposed system.

She said the board will be extending the deadline for bus parents until the middle of August.

 

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